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Aryna Sabalenka practises ahead of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Thursday. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Aryna Sabalenka has had a phenomenal run in 2023, making it to the semi-finals of all four Grand Slam along with the WTA Final. The genial Belarusian will begin her Australian Open defence with a new goal for 2024  - winning more Grand Slams.

World No 2 Sabalenka, who defeated Elena Rybakina in the final to win her maiden Grand Slam title, told Gulf News: “There are lots of goals. It’s Olympics next year. It’s pretty good year in 2023 and I can do a better than that in 2024. It’s quite obvious one what is the next goal. I just have one Grand Slam title and want to win more.”

Sabalenka became the first woman since Serena Williams in 2016 to reach the semi-finals of all four Grand Slams. The 25-year-old won the Australian Open and lost the US Open final to Coco Gauff, a performance that helped her clinch the world No 1 spot for the first time in her career. This year, the first Grand Slam of the year, will begin on Sunday to ease the schedule and to avoid late-night matches.

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Sabalenka and Novak Djokovic play mixed doubles together during a charity event in Melbourne on Thursday. Image Credit: AFP

“Honestly, it doesn’t really matter if you’re No 1 or No 10. You’re still there on the court fighting for it. You still have to bring your best tennis on the court to beat the opponent. After my career, I can say probably say that yeah, I was world No 1, it just sounds cool,” she added.

After the Australia triumph, Sabalenka’s game suffered with serves not hitting the mark. However, she came back strongly.

Not going to be an easy season

“I started the season well, but was really emotional after Australia and then I had some time to switch off and start all over again. I forgot what just happened in the beginning of the season. I have a great team, who is really taking care of me. They’re always there for me, that keeps me going keep,” she added.

With four-time Grand Slam champion Iga Swiatek getting back the No 1 spot in the year-end rankings and world No 3 Rybakina winning the grudge match in the Brisbane Open final, Sabalenka is likely to face a lot of difficulties during her defence. The three are expected to cross each other's paths frequently this season.

“It’s not going to be easy this season,” Sabalenka had told reporters in Brisbane. “Just having this thought in the back of your mind, actually having a title to defend, makes it actually not easy.”

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Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas (right) and Sabalenka react as they push Djokovic during a charity event on Rod Laver Arena. Image Credit: AFP

Sabalenka had a smooth and easy preparation for the gruelling season by taking part in the World Tennis League in Abu Dhabi last month. The team environment and playing along with friend Paula Badosa and her boyfriend Stefanos Tsitsipas gave the Belarussian a joyful atmosphere to look ahead for the new season.

No pressure

“I’m trying not to put myself under pressure. I’m trying to prepare myself as good as I can. It’s not easy, especially with the Grand Slams. It can get super emotional. One thing can change everything. But I think I did a great job in the preseason and I’m ready to do it.”

Sabalenka aims to approach this year with a smarter mindset, which has eased the pressure of losing considerably.

“I accepted the fact that I can lose, that everyone can go there and beat me if I’m not bringing my best tennis. Accepting this fact gives you more belief,” Sabalenka said. “You’re more calm on the court in those crucial moments. I think that’s why I’m not putting myself under pressure. Worst case, what happens? I’m going to lose a Grand Slam, lose some points, drop a little bit in the rankings? There are so many tournaments ahead,” she concluded, reiterating the fact that the rankings don’t bother her much.

— With inputs from Reuters